The clamour and various posturings on the need to restructure our country are assuming a disturbing shape and tone. For one, it seems to be assumed that every Nigerian is agreed on the concept of restructuring or that those who disagree are of little consequence or do not even matter. At another level, some other Nigerians have lately arrogated to themselves the prescience of divining what other Nigerians, whether persuaded or not on the restructuring idea, want or desire in the context. One such trend is the recent summit of some leaders in Ibadan and the newly published memorandum of the Government of Osun State on the so-called true federalism. Both the Ibadan forum and the State of Osun memorandum posited the creation of six geopolitical zones and went ahead to group the existing states into the zones. Not one of them asked or bothered to enquire if the states concerned are agreed or wish otherwise in the event of a restructuring of Nigeria into regional or zonal structures.
I shall advance the democratic case of those of us otherwise known as Midwesterners or the old Midwest Region that was constitutionally created in 1963.
I had argued some time ago that the first motion to create the Midwest Region was moved in the Federal Parliament on April 4, 1961. The validity of the motion was contested on the legal ground that it was carried by voice vote instead of the formal count required by the constitution for such an exercise. So, another successful motion was moved on March 24, 1962. The plebiscite was organised and eventual creation bill was passed in 1963. Therefore, at the beginning of military rule in 1966, there were four federating units and regional centres of political and economic activities in our country.
The just published template by the summiteers in Ibadan and the memorandum of the State of Osun ostensibly gave the impression that the Midwest people had agreed or ceded their rights to decide for themselves. So I ask where and when was it decided that they would rather forfeit the labour of their ancestors? By their supposition, the proponents of restructuring gave no fig to the wishes of or better still, accessorised the needless continued neglect of the Midwest option in their arguments aimed at promoting the geopolitical zones as the eventual federating units. I think we should correct this chutzpah before the horses flee the barns.
The current non-state and informal exercises represent for us an invaluable platform to interrogate the sore issue of neglect of the Midwest option in the zonal structuration of Nigeria. As things stand, despite the fiery appearances and inhibited argumentations from both proponents and opponents alike, the quest for formal zonal structures could gain favour if not now but in the foreseeable future. Perhaps, the various amendments to the constitution could yield such results. Therefore, the Midwest zone should feature in the arguments. I shall explain.
By the republican constitution of 1963, Nigeria was composed of four regions namely, the East, Midwest, West and North. But by sleight of the gerrymandering of Nigeria's military rulers in death throes, the country was morphed, conventionally if not yet constitutionally, into six geopolitical zones with thirty-six states spread over the North-Central; North-East and North-West in the former Northern region. The present Southwest is the old Western region with its cultural consanguinity, even if not, economic community, in her six states. The Southwest is thus the same in a material particulars after 1963 plebiscite to create the Midwest.
In the former Eastern region, we now have five states in the Southeast zone; that is, less the four emergent states from the old Calabar-Ogoja-Rivers axis. Currently, the four states of the COR part that was excised from the Eastern region is bandaged together with the two states created from the collapsed Midwestern region to form the so-called South-South zone.
Inherent in the South-South zonal arrangement, therefore, is not really the point that a part of the former Eastern region and the former Midwest region should be collapsed to form a zone. It is not the issue, although important, that two out of the old four regions should retain their geographical structures. The fundamental point I want to highlight is that the historical gains of the COR and Midwest groups, respectively, it is being assumed, should be frittered and scattered to the mercy of inclement comings and goings of our country.
It may seem an apparent mutual fortune for the old Eastern region, although it goes often unacknowledged, that she has been saved its mortal troublesome COR zone that was partly blamed for the failure of the Biafra adventure. However, the logic of the self-determination is still defective without an independent zone for the COR groups. In the prevailing arguments, the unfortunate victims of the political gerrymandering are again set to be the usually downtrodden people of the Midwest and COR zones.
The glaring injustice should be discomfiting in the understanding that the COR groups were historically not the lonesome troubles of larger neighbours, east or west of the Niger. The people of the Midwest were also not a trifle rambunctious and indeed, raised hell that they were excised from the East in the mid-1900s and from the West in 1963. It follows that instead of the supposed eureka of liberation, the South-South concept is a drawback in the resolution of the Nigerian national question, and hence it is dysfunctional.
Consequently, in the context of the principles of self-determination of peoples in multicultural and multinational countries, it is relevant to restate the Midwest case has a backdrop of historical importance. That the excised half of the former Eastern region should be heaped with the collapsed Midwest region will represent a misplaced resolution of the national question for the peoples. Indeed, the situation will only graphically relate the refusal of Nigerian political and cultural leadership, from both divides, to fully understand the conceptualisation of federalism, the national question and so on, let alone to sincerely address it. The point must not be lost, therefore, with the proposed structuration, the Midwest region will be returned to the colonial era of the 1900s. That would be no progress. I shall explain again.
To be continued tomorrow.
- Dr. Ebhohimhen lives in Benin City.